Hitchcock standing with a long row of all his films in canisters. Seen via Sheri Chinen Biesen (@SheriBiesen) on Twitter.
Alfred Hitchcock, celebrating what would have been his 114th birthday last week, is undeniably my favorite director. I’ve seen almost all of his filmography, barring a few scattered ones here and there and most of the silents, and even though there are a few I’m not that crazy about (looking at you, Under Capricorn), by and large I’m going to be at least entertained and often blown away by his work. In fact, an Alfred Hitchcock film is my #1 of all time, and three Hitchcock films are in my Top Twenty, more than any other filmmaker by far. Looking farther down, all of my Top Ten Hitchcock films are in the top 15% of my Flickchart, and I have 16 Hitchcock films in my Top 1000 (basically the top 1/3 of my chart). Not too shabby for the Master of Suspense.
Flickchart is a movie ranking website that pits two random films against each other and asks you to choose which one is better, meanwhile building a list of your favorite films. I rank according to what I like the best, prioritizing personal preferences and emotional connections, so my Flickchart is in no way meant to be objective.
10 – The Trouble with Harry (1955)
The Trouble with Harry is my go-to recommendation for underrated Hitchcock films. In a small New England town, one of those places where everyone knows everyone else, a man ends up dead in the woods and no one seems particularly upset about it. In fact, several people are fairly convinced they’re the ones who killed him. The dark comedy side of Hitchcock is in full view here, and it’s gleefully macabre and dry. Also, Shirley MacLaine’s screen debut. So there’s that.
9 – The 39 Steps (1935)
The sole British film on my list, The 39 Steps epitomizes the witty charm that characterized Hitchcock’s British period while also foreshadowing many of the themes that would run throughout his career – mistaken identity, the wrong man on the run from shadowy pursuer, a forced entanglement leading to a romance, a cool blonde, etc. Robert Donat is the man mistaken for a spy who ends up handcuffed to Madeleine Carroll while they suss out the spy ring threatening England.
Apparently I turned a corner in moviewatching in May, finally having a solid streak of films I really liked to loved. I think there were a few months earlier this year that I struggled to come up with any films that a solidly loved. Obviously not last month with the TCM Fest going on, but that’s a special occasion. This month I saw and loved four very distinctly different films, which is exactly the kind of month I like to have. Not a lot of volume in May (thanks to my newly developed Minecraft addiction – seriously, if you get addicted easily, do NOT buy that game), but a whole lot of quality.
What I Loved
I actually wrote a sort-of review for The Avengers already, so I won’t go on about it here, except just to say that we went back to see it again the next week (we NEVER do that – I can count the number of films I’ve seen multiple times in theatres on two hands) and I still enjoyed it just as much. I expected the beginning set-up section at S.H.I.E.L.D. to drag a lot more the second time, but I was pleasantly surprised.
2012 USA. Director: Joss Whedon. Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Gregg Clark, Cobie Smulders.
Seen May 5 and May 12 at Arclight Sherman Oaks.
Flickchart ranking: 382 out of 2965
The Turin Horse
Over a blank screen we’re told the famous tale of Nietzsche seeing a horse being beaten in the streets of Turin, running to the horse, and throwing his arms around its neck, weeping – the beginning of a mental breakdown from which he never fully recovered. But what of the horse, asks Béla Tarr, and of its owners? Instead of the heady philosophy or dramatic psychosis you’d expect from a story that begins with Nietzsche, Tarr gives us a mundane, human, and deeply moving glimpse into a very difficult and despairing existence. The man and his daughter depend on the horse for their lives, such as they are – and we see them throughout a week as the horse, stubborn because of illness, gets weaker and weaker and their own hold on existence gets more and more tenuous. You don’t (or shouldn’t) sit down to a Tarr film without knowing what you’re getting into, and this one is nearly two and a half hours long of basically watching these two people do mundane chores over and over in very long takes. When things are so much the same, the differences become enormous, and Tarr maximizes that by varying camera placements, or by using slight changes in demeanor or action to telegraph the changing states of mind and being of these extremely taciturn people. Settling into the film’s rhythm yields an experience that makes mundanity into something transcendent, and by the end, seeing these two simply sitting at their roughhewn table was enough to bring me to the brink of tears. Tarr has said this will be his final film, and if that’s true, it’s a pretty masterful work to go out on.
2011 Hungary. Director: Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky. Starring: János Derzsi, Erika Bók, Mihály Kormos.
Seen May 2 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 433 out of 2965
To some degree, you know what you’re going to get when you head into a Wes Anderson movie, so carefully has he refined his style, putting out one of the most self-consciously auteurist bodies of work of any director working today. This one is almost a spot-on distillation of the concept of a Wes Anderson film, and yet rather than devolve into parody, he’s created one of his best films yet. Here a boy scout and a young girl (who looks like a Margot Tenenbaum in the making) escape from her dysfunctional family, providing a young love of such innocence that it seems to provide a way out from Anderson’s typically ironic family drama, here played out by the world-weary and yet strangely childish adults. The film is so charming it’s easy to call it overly slight, but there’s more going on here than immediately meets the eye, and it has surprised me by never straying far from my mind since I saw it.
2012 USA. Director: Wes Anderson. Starring: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel.
Seen May 26 at Arclight Hollywood.
Flickchart ranking: 480 out of 2965
The Love Trap
Silent-to-sound era transition films are almost innately awkward, as studios rushed to try to sound-ify any silent films currently in production, creating hybrids that sit comfortably as neither silents or talkies. The Love Trap is one such film, and I won’t deny it has its fair share of awkwardness when the film, completely silent for roughly the first two thirds, turns completely talkie and it takes a little while to settle into the new mode. Yet I also can’t deny that I loved this film far more than it probably deserves. Laura LaPlante (who after seeing just this and The Cat and the Canary is my new silent girlcrush) is a showgirl who’s bad at it and gets fired, her only recourse to try to get “powder room money” from rich men. When one gets a little too fresh, she runs out horrified and disgraced, only to find she’s been evicted. A man in a taxi rescues her and her furniture from the sidewalk, and after a quick romance they’re married – but what will his wealthy family think of his showgirl wife? It’s pretty typical of the time, but done with such charm and spontaneity that I thoroughly enjoyed almost every second of it – I say almost because there is a brief part in the taxi that bothered me, as the man begins behaving almost exactly like the cad back at the party, but somehow it’s different because we just “know” he’s the good guy. Double standard much? And the transition to sound is awkward, with poor LaPlante struggling a bit at first, but somehow by the end, she’s just as charming as she was in silent mode.
1929 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Laura LaPlante, Neil Hamilton.
Seen May 9 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 555 out of 2965
[This post is a contribution to the third annual For the Love of Film blogathon and fundraiser, which will be running from May 13-18. This year, hosts Marilyn Ferdinand, Farran Smith Nehme and Roderick Heath have dedicated the week to Alfred Hitchcock, whose early (non-directorial) work The White Shadow will be the beneficiary of any money earned during the event, to support the National Film Preservation Foundation's desire to stream the film online for free. Be sure to donate so you can see this very-nearly lost film yourself!]
[Note: I suppose I spoil The White Shadow a bit in here, but it's an incomplete film, and in terms of film preservation, that's part of its power. I wanted to get across the sense of what it was like to be in the Academy screening when we came to the end of the portion that exists. But if you particularly don't want to know anything about the film until you can see it streaming thanks to the NFPF and this blogathon's fundraising efforts, skim lightly especially in two paragraphs before and after the image of Hitchcock directing.]
We excitedly gathered on the sidewalk, anticipating being let into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ own screening room, the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills. VIPs slipped by, headed toward the bar or lounge in their finery, while the rest of us waited, patient but anxious to begin the evening’s entertainment. Any screening at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre is a treat, a step into a more opulent past presented by the self-appointed guardians of Hollywood history, but this was no ordinary screening. This was the very first appearance of an early, long-thought-lost Hitchcock film pretty much since its original release in 1924. Well, technically Hitchcock was the Assistant Director on the film (and he tended to get in on every part of production he could in those early days, so likely he was doing much more), the second of two collaborations with director Graham Cutts and actress Betty Compson, apparently rushed into production to capitalize on the popularity of the first, Woman to Woman. According to producer Michael Balcon, “it was as big a flop as Woman to Woman had been a success.” But Woman to Woman remains a lost film, and in any case, The White Shadow could’ve been a terrible movie and we still would’ve been ecstatic to see it.
Our excitement was first of all out of curiosity to see if we could see any glimpses of Hitchcock in the film’s style, but also simply because here’s a film that has been thought lost for decades, turned up (partially at least) in an archive in New Zealand, along with a bunch of other long-lost films. If we can still locate treasure troves like this in 2011, what else might still be out there, waiting for intrepid archivists to find it, figure out what it is, and restore it so the world can rediscover it?
Well, the Roundup kind of took an unplanned hiatus while I recovered from the TCM Film Fest and struggled to get caught back up with the blogosphere. I’m still running a bit behind, but not by much, so let’s go ahead and try to get back into the groove here.
For the Love of Film Blogathon
The For the Love of Film Blogathon, now in its third year, supports film preservation by raising awareness of the need for preserving film and seeking to raise financial support for a specific film preservation cause of project. This year, the project is The White Shadow, the recently rediscovered 1924 film that Alfred Hitchcock worked on as assistant director (and many other things, most likely), currently the oldest film known to exist that Hitchcock played a part in making. In order to make it possible for more people to see the film, the National Film Preservation Foundation wants to put it streaming online, a conversion and delivery system that will cost several thousand dollars. Those of us blogging as part of the For the Love of Film Blogathon this year will be discussing Hitchcock’s work in general, his silent films, or other silent films in light of the importance of preserving this cinematic heritage and making it available to a wider audience. My piece about The White Shadow itself is right here. In the meantime, Marilyn Ferdinand of Ferdy on Films, Farran Smith Neame of The Self-Styled Siren, and Roderick Heath of This Island Rod are collecting the links to other participating blogs as articles get posted. It’s quite a collection already, which I look forward to delving into.
Tales of Hollywood: Preston Sturges’ Wild Ride by The Lady Eve of The Lady Eve’s Reel Life
Preston Sturges is one of my favorite writers and directors, and The Lady Eve (who has taken her pseudonym, of course, from one of his best films) has an excellent biographical piece about him and not only how he became one of a Hollywood’s first writer/directors (paving the way for Billy Wilder and many, many others), but about his other “job” as a restaurateur, starting the famous Players’ Club on Sunset, a popular hangout for many celebrities in the 1940s. She also tells of how the place basically ruined him. It’s a fascinating story that I really didn’t know anything about.
My 11 Favorite Cinematographers by Alex Withrow of And So It Begins
Cinematography is one of my favorite things about the movies, and it’s not uncommon that a movie that looks really beautiful or distinctive will jump up a couple of notches in my estimation no matter what I think about the rest of it (story, acting, etc.). It’s all too easy to fall back on auteurist shorthand and credit a film’s look to the director – which is not always totally wrong, but often when directors have a distinctive and consistent “look” to their films, it’s because they tend to work with same cinematographer over and over again. Alex Withrow jumps straight to the source here and talks about his favorite cinematographers. Then he realized there weren’t any female cinematographers on his list, and went specifically looking for women to feature, resulting in this post. Then he went to find the films that he loved the look of, but weren’t by otherwise known cinematographers, and came up with this post for B&W cinematography and this one for color cinematography. All in all, an excellent set of posts.
Thomas Edison and the Origin of Sound and Color in Films by Lara at Backlots
Quick, film history 101: when did sound come into motion pictures? 1927, with The Jazz Singer. What about color? 1936 with Becky Sharp. Both common answers and not totally incorrect, and yet also…incorrect. As much as I love B&W films and think color is an option, not a necessity, and as much as I’ve grown to love silent cinema and think it was just as high an art form as sound film eventually became, the early pioneers of cinema were no more content with B&W and silence at the dawn of cinema than they were in the late ’20s and early ’30s, and color and sound experiments started way back with Thomas Edison, one of the original developers of cinema. Lara lays out his experiments with both color and sound in a highly informative and interesting post.
The 10 Greatest Movies of All Time (According to the Internet) by Cole Abius at Film School Rejects
If you follow Roger Ebert on his blog or on Twitter, you may have noticed him debating over his votes for this decade’s Sight & Sound poll, which creates a top ten list every decade based on the lists submitted by prominent (and invited) film critics. The poll has a certain cache, but it understandably leans heavily on accepted canon. Not necessarily a bad thing, but FSR decided to hold their own poll, inviting various prominent members of online media and film-related websites to make their own poll, which has some interesting results – about half accepted canon, and about half what I’d consider the canon of 30-year-old men, in other words, well-beloved 1980s favorites. Which is fine, and actually creates a more diverse list that captures something of our zeitgeist. Both lists have their place, and it’s fun to see alternative takes on the “best” movies of all time.
The Future is Female: 2012 is the Year of the Empowered Girl by various writers at Row Three
A group effort by a bunch of Row Three writers, in which I played only a humble part, writing about Katniss Everdeen. Others covered Haywire, Prometheus, The Avengers, The Secret World of Arrietty, Brave, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, A Lonely Place to Die, and more, talking about how this year seems to be something of a watershed in terms of having a large number (and variety) of female leads in the kinds of films that are traditionally centered on male figures. Lots of room for disagreement, additions, or even wondering whether making such a list actually negates its own purpose, so come on over and leave your thoughts.
- Christopher Morris at The Cinementals lists his top five Ginger Rogers films (sans Fred Astaire)
- Joanna at Man I Love Films acclaims Steve McQueen as the original badass, and she is totally right
- Dan Heaton of Public Transportation Snob picks out ten of his favorite podcasts; I already listen to and enjoy a few of these, but I’ll definitely be checking out some more!
- Richard Brody calls for Every Movie Now – can’t say I disagree with him, but restoration/digitization I’m sure is a barrier
- Where Danger Lives turns up a veritable plethora of Joan Crawford posters
- Max Steiner is pretty much the father of movie scores, and Lara at Backlots (again!) runs down his career and influence thoroughly and engagingly
- Seems like everyone I know has been writing about Murnau’s The Last Laugh lately, and now Chris Edwards of Silent Volume joins his voice to the throng – apparently I gotta see this thing, and soon
- Andrew at Row Three (and other sites, but I saw it here first, regardless of favoritism) highlights some fun facts about Universal Studios as they turn 100
Cool Trailers, Videos, and More
- Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, etc., in a period neo-noir? Based on that and this trailer, I’m there the day Gangster Squad opens
- I keep forgetting Safety Not Guaranteed exists, but with Aubrey Plaza in a time-travel-esque film, I gotta quit doing that – here’s the trailer
- Can Ben Affleck go three for three as a director? Judging from this trailer for Argo, it seems very possible
- Criterion has Three Reasons for The Gold Rush
- Classic film fans! Check out this group photo and see how many you can name – I only got 15-20 or so (right click and say “open in new tab” to see it larger)
- The Avengers is just setting records all over the place – $200m first weekend, $100m second, and over $1 billion worldwide
- Jessica Chastain drops out of Iron Man 3 (boo!), but Rebecca Hall may be her replacement (yay!) – I love Hall almost as much as Chastain, and she definitely deserves more exposure, so I’m stoked
- The existence of promo posters for Sin City 2 and Machete Kills suggest what Robert Rodriguez is up to lately
- Edgar Wright‘s next movie may be The World’s End, a third film with Pegg & Frost; he’s still planning Ant-Man, though!
- Apparently Film Socialisme isn’t to be Jean-Luc Godard‘s last film, after all; he’s prepping Goodbye to Language (which should really be the title of all his movies), and it’s gonna be in 3D – sorry JLG, I gotta *eyeroll* that
- Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof working on a mysterious sci-fi project? Yeah, I’m there